How to Write a Good Paragraph
Let’s start with paragraph writing. A good paragraph has a topic sentence, a few supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence. A topic sentence is the main idea that is explained in the paragraph. The supporting sentences back that idea, and the concluding sentence sums everything up clearly. Take a look at this example from Brian Kilmeade’s book, George Washington’s Secret Six:
But it was also a risky business. The Sound was patrolled by the formidable British navy and, even though smuggling was accepted as common practice, an example was sometimes made of violators. Men who were caught could face anything from a stern warning to a heavy fine to imprisonment.
The first sentence is the topic sentence. It’s actually referencing information in the previous paragraph that talked about smuggling to avoid British taxes, but it’s backed up by the following sentence that explains why the smuggling was such risky business. The paragraph ends with a brief recap of the risk involved.
Good paragraphs should have a unifying idea and a clear order, but they should also be coherent.
Coherence in a paragraph is the technique of making words, phrases, and sentences move smoothly and logically from one to another. The ideas should be “glued together” so that the reader doesn’t have to stretch to understand what’s being said. Transitional words and phrases, repetition, and parallel sentence structure are great tools to help link sentences in a paragraph.
Transitional words and phrases tell the reader the relationship between what was said and what will be said. Let’s take a look at the following example:
Bernard led a healthy lifestyle. He ate balanced meals, worked out three times a week, and drank plenty of water. He had diabetes.
This is a paragraph, certainly, but not a very coherent one. The sentences are all true, but they don’t seem linked at all. Why is Bernard’s healthy lifestyle connected to diabetes? Let’s look at the sentence with transitional words and phrases.
Bernard led a healthy lifestyle. He had diabetes, but focused on eating balanced meals, working out three times a week, and drinking plenty of water. He said the healthy lifestyle was even more important considering his diagnosis.
Ah. See, that makes more sense. The coordinating conjunction “but” helps link the healthy lifestyle and diabetes together in a more coherent fashion. The clarifying sentence at the end of the paragraph goes a step further to make sure the reader understands the main point behind the paragraph.
We also used repetition to make Bernard’s situation clear. As you can see, the phrase “healthy lifestyle” was repeated in the first and last sentence, thereby reminding the reader that the first sentence about Bernard’s lifestyle was a setup for the last sentence about his diagnosis.
Now, it doesn’t matter how clear your individual paragraphs are if you string them together in a confusing way. That’s where structural patterns come in. Structural patterns are a way of organizing your paragraphs so your book or essay makes the most sense.
There are many different structural patterns but some of the main ones are Cause and Effect; Compare and Contrast; Sequential Order; Order of Importance; Problem and Solution.
Cause and effect organization shows the different causes and effects of various conditions. It’s effective for persuasive essays and books where the author is trying to convince the reader of something. Let’s say we’re writing an essay about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There are two ways to arrange this: either with all the paragraphs listing the cause of PTSD first and all the paragraphs listing the effect after, or a lineup of paragraphs where each paragraph contains a cause and the effect it produces.
In a compare and contrast organizational model, the author evaluates the similarities and differences between two subjects. Usually those subjects are in the same category. For example, you might write an essay comparing two different types of pets, or two different novels from the same historical period. In this pattern you should keep the elements you’re comparing and contrasting close together. If you’re comparing pets, you might have a paragraph on cat exercise immediately following a paragraph on dog exercise.
Sequential order organization is used to describe a process. It arranges information in a step-by-step sequence. For instance, if you were writing an essay on bread baking you might start with a paragraph about proofing yeast, then move on to a description of combining ingredients, with your last paragraphs focused on rising and baking times.
Order of importance organization is exactly how it sounds. Put the most important information first in your essay. This is very common in news writing. The first few paragraphs of a news article will always contain the most relevant information, that way if a reader loses interest part way through the story, they don’t miss the whole main point.
With problem and solution organization, the first paragraphs are generally focused on convincing the reader that problem exists. The closing paragraphs are focused on convincing the reader that a certain course of action in response to the problem is best.
In summation, good writing doesn’t happen by accident. You have to plan ahead so the reader has no trouble following your train of thought. Well-formed paragraphs, coherence, and good structural patterns can help with this.
Thanks for watching this video, and as always, happy studying!